Archive for the 'Linux' Category



17
Sep
07

Photoblog

After a lot of messing around, a week or more of inaction, and a little more messing around, I finally got my photoblog up and running.  The bottom line seems to be that WordPress and the photoblogging plug-in don’t play nicely with 10MP images.  I had been hoping that I would be able to use the plug-in to automatically upload, resize, and thumbnail all the images I wanted to post on the photoblog, and while that may still be possible, I have given up trying to make it work.  For now, I will resize the images manually and then use the WordPress administrative interface to upload things.  This also will give me the opportunity to think about whether I want to crop the pictures at all in order to make sure the picture is composed exactly as I want it.

Anyway, my photoblog is now available at the unsurprising URL: http://imladris.mit.edu/photoblog/  (Update: this site is now down – see its replacement at http://instantforever.org)

I wrestled with the title for quite awhile, rather than choosing something lame like “insert title here”.  My initial choice was “14 Shots of the Dome”, which was meant to say something about how this site featured photography (“shots”) and about how I am a student of MIT, the most easily recognizable architectural feature of which is its dome.  I thought this title was a clever double meaning to both “shots” and “dome”, playing off L.L. Cool J’s album “14 Shots to the Dome”.  However, after some consideration, I decided not to use a name that evoked thoughts of someone getting shot in the head.

Going back to the drawing board, I began to think a lot about the nature of photography, which, I would say, is the way in which it takes a fleeting moment and records it, preserving it for eternity.  I’ve been thinking more about speaking German lately, so I thought I might want to choose a title in German.  Furthermore, the people who made both the WordPress photoblog plug-in as well as the WordPress theme I’m using are German speakers, so this seemed doubly appropriate.  In the end, I settled on “Der Ewige Augenblick”, which roughly translates to “The Eternal Instant” or “The Everlasting Moment”.  I also considered “Der Ewiggewordene Augenblick”, which would more precisely capture the idea of an instant becoming eternal, but that seems like a mouthful for English speakers.

I posted a picture last night and another one tonight.  I hope that you’ll take a look and let me know what you think.

01
Sep
07

Potential Outage / Coming Attractions

So, I’m planning to add a photoblog to the offerings here on imladris.mit.edu.  In particular, I’m thinking about using the so-called “Yet Another Photo Blog” plug-in for WordPress, since I have a decent amount of experience with WordPress and I already have 2 WordPress installations on this server.  However, as I was looking into adding a photoblog, I realized that having 3 separate WordPress installations would be a pain, since it would make 3 times the work for me when I want to upgrade to a new version of WordPress.  So, I’ve decided to try to consolidate things and run my blog, Heather’s blog, and my new photoblog all from the same WordPress installation.  How is such a thing possible?  Well, after looking through the documentation at codex.wordpress.org, I found the Allan Mertner/Stephen Rider symlink hack.  I plan to try to get this running in the next day or two.  However, I’ve had enough experience doing things like this to know that it rarely goes as smoothly as one might hope.  So, be forewarned that this blog, and Heather’s blog, for that matter, could be out of commission for a day or two.  Once everything is set up, I’ll post again and let you know where you can find my new photoblog.  I have a pretty big backlog of pictures, both from my ~20 rolls of film (with 4 more yet to be developed) and from the 600+ pictures that I’ve taken with my Pentax K10D since I got it, so I hope to be able to give my readership a picture a day for the foreseeable future.

25
Aug
07

SLR photography: a retrospective and a new chapter

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post asking my readers about digital SLR cameras. I was theoretically considering getting a digital SLR because I wanted to learn to take beautiful pictures. A former member of my research group had recommended learning SLR photography using digital SLRs because you get instant feedback. However, in the comments responding to my post, a couple of people suggested getting a fully manual film SLR instead – at least initially – so I would be forced to learn how to use an SLR properly. Then, once I had mastered taking pictures manually, I could move on to a digital SLR and actually take advantage of its features, rather than treating it as an expensive point-and-shoot. I took their advice and got a Pentax K1000 from eBay. I took lots of pictures with it and even entered my first photo competition with a picture from the Omaha Zoo, taken with my K1000.

Since last August, I have aquired 2 other film SLRs, both as gifts, in addition to my K1000. The first – a Konica Autoreflex T – was given to me by my wife’s uncle during our trip to Omaha this spring. I’ve probably taken 3 or 4 rolls of film with that camera. I like it, but I don’t know how to use it as well as my K1000. This mostly hinges on the metering system, which recommends the correct aperture to use rather than telling you whether your currently selected settings would produce a properly exposed picture.

In addition to the Konica, when my friend Scott moved out of Cambridge, he gave me a Canon EOS IX Lite, which uses APS film. This is a much more full-featured SLR than my other two, including auto-exposure, auto-focus, aperture- and shutter-priority modes, fully automatic shooting, and other goodies. He also threw in a Canon 22-55mm f/4-5.6 wide-angle zoom lens and a Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 telephoto zoom lens. These are both auto-focus lenses with built-in motors, so it’s a very nice package. I used this camera primarily when my brother-in-law and I took our Photowalk in the Back Bay. I like it a lot, but the APS format is dying and both the film itself and the developing is getting expensive and hard to locate.

By the time I develop all the film I have, I’ll have taken 25 rolls of film with my various film SLR cameras. I feel like I’ve gotten much more proficient at taking pictures. I’ve developed an eye for what constitutes a good photo and I have a sense for how to compose pictures. I’ve learned about the effects of shutter speed and aperture. I’ve experimented with different film speeds and types, including black and white print, color print, and color slide. In short, I think I’ve accomplished what I had hoped to accomplish with my foray into film: I’ve learned how to use a manual SLR. Sure, there’s room for improvement, as there will always be, but I’ve definitely got the basics figured out.

In addition to having accomplished much of what I hoped to accomplish through the use of a film SLR, lately I have become more keenly aware of how expensive using film is. The cost of film plus the cost of developing has been preventing me from experimenting and I felt like my photography was beginning to stagnate. So, I began to think about a digital SLR again. Unlike many of my friends who, by virtue of the many lenses they already owned, were locked into buying a digital SLR of a particular brand, I haven’t invested much money in lenses, so I was free to consider cameras from many different manufacturers. After spending lots of time on dpreview.com and reading many reviews written by camera owners, I came to the conclusion that the Pentax K10D is a great value, providing many advanced features that are only available on significantly more expensive cameras from Canon and Nikon.

This summer, Pentax instituted a rebate program, which could give buyers a rebate of up to $150 if they bought the camera along with one of couple of possible accessories. The last day of the rebate was July 31st and, in the days leading up to it, I agonized over whether I should take the plunge. I like to keep my options open, so I find decisions like this stressful. Anyway, in the end, I bought a K10D with the kit lens and a telephoto zoom lens from Willoughby’s in New York. I’m suspicious of many of these New York-based camera stores because they have a reputation for ripping people off, however, so far, I’ve been happy with Willoughby’s. I had to have one of the lenses replaced because, at some point during shipping the lens cap had become loose and had been rubbing on the front glass of the lens, producing small scratches and scuff marks. They were helpful on the phone, paid for the shipping to return the lens to them, and got me a replacement very quickly. So, all in all, it’s been a positive experience.

So, long story short, I now have a digital SLR and I’m learning how to use it. There are a lot of things to master, even if you’re not shooting manually and I’ve gotten pretty good at using the delete button. However, I’ve also taken some pictures that I’m really happy with. Unfortunately, while we were in Pittsburgh, it was overcast much of the time and I have lots of pictures in which the sky is overexposed. If people have any recommendations on how to minimize this problem, I’d be interested in hearing them. Also, I may try to set up some kind of photo blog on my server, so if people want to give me recommendations on what software I should use, I’d be interested in that as well.

25
Jan
07

Update

Here’s a couple of good news/bad news pairs that will update you on the last few days…

Bad news: My computer took longer to get running than I had anticipated because the fan on my graphics card died after I cleaned all the dust out. I looked for a replacement at a local store and was told by an employee that I would have to order it online and it would cost $25. This would be on top of the $90 I had already spent on the new hard drive I bought.
Good news: I finally got the computer up and running. Instead of trying to repair my graphics card, I got a new one for $35. I still haven’t transferred all our old data over, but most of the core functionality has been restored. In the end, I spent more on this project than I had intended, but I also upgraded the hardware substantially, so it shouldn’t need any further work or upgrades for a while.

Bad news: Last night, Elizabeth slipped in the kitchen and bashed her face on the floor. She cut her lower lip and blood got all over the place, including her clothes, my clothes, the floor, the phone, and the ice tray.
Good news: She handled the situation really well. We took her to urgent care and the doctor said he thought it was pretty minor and didn’t require any stitches. She should be all healed in a couple of days.

Good news: It’s almost the weekend.
Bad news: I haven’t accomplished very much at work this week.

Good news: I have new-found motivation to work on the computer I’m trying to set up to run MythTV. I also have some new sources of information (thanks, andyl) on how to get it working, which will hopefully make the process easier and less frustrating than last time I worked on it.
Bad news: If, for some reason, I can’t get it all working quickly and easily, I’ll probably wind up wasting a number of hours of my life in frustration and bitterness.

12
Jan
07

The computers of Middle-Earth

This post will pretty much out me as a huge nerd, though I’m guessing that all my previous posts have probably taken care of that already.

Yesterday, I registered my fourth static IP address and hostname with MIT. I needed a fourth because I now have 3 computers and a Wii at home, all of which access the network using static IP addresses. Yesterday’s new hostname also marked the third The Lord of the Rings-related hostname I’ve registered. The hostnames I’ve chosen are as follows (in chronological order):

  1. rechner“: I chose this in the fall of 2003 when Heather and I got our then-new home desktop machine. It has nothing to do with Tolkien because I wasn’t into The Lord of the Rings at that point. Anyway, it simply means “computer” in German, which I think is pretty appropriate for a machine we use for general computing.
  2. imladris“: This is the machine that hosts this blog. Imladris is the Elvish (Sindarin) name for a refuge and home for the Elves in Middle-Earth, more commonly known as Rivendell. I chose this name because this machine would be my online home, hosting my family’s photo galleries and my blog. Also, I chose Imladris instead of Rivendell, because Rivendell was already taken… (Update: Imladris no longer hosts this blog. In fact, Imladris has been retired.)
  3. ainulindale“: I honestly have no idea how to pronounce this. This is the Elvish (Quenya) word for the song sung by Iluvatar and the Ainur that created the world, which is discussed in The Silmarillion, rather than any of the Lord of the Rings books. I chose this for my Apple AirPort Express, which I bought to stream iTunes music from my computer to my stereo. I have since retired my AirPort Express due to the unreliable nature of our building’s wireless network and its inability to stream audio sources other than iTunes. It has since been replaced by a Griffin RocketFM. When I got my Wii, I used this hostname for it, which is still somewhat appropriate given the ethereal music that plays on the Wii menu.
  4. orthanc“: This is the Elvish (Sindarin) word for the tower at Isengard, where Saruman lived. I chose this name because the corresponding computer is a black tower, just like Orthanc. I also considered the name “palantir” or “palantiri”, which are the so-called “seeing stones” in The Lord of the Rings, since it will be used for recording television, which itself means “far sight”. However, I haven’t fully decided if the long-term purpose of this machine will be for running Linux and MythTV or whether I will convert it to a Windows Home Server machine when that comes out. So, I thought it would be better to name it according to its appearance rather than its function.

Owning a copy of Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth helped immensely with the choosing of these names. Not only that, if you’re interested in reading any work by Tolkien, I would recommend having a copy of this book next to you at all times, so you can look up unfamiliar terms as you read. It will help you get a lot more out of his books than you would get without it.

Finally, lest you think I’m really strange, I would like to point out that lots of people choose names from literature (or other realms of knowledge) to name their computers. For example, my advisor has a policy of naming all the computers in his research group after characters from Dickens novels.

27
Oct
06

On the cusp of mythical greatness

I spent a good chunk of tonight working on setting up MythTV on a computer I was given over the summer.  One of my officemates had an old (but not that old – P4 2.0GHz) Dell that he said he never used and didn’t need anymore.  I had been toying with the idea of building a personal video recorder (PVR) on the cheap for a while, but “on the cheap” was never cheap enough to fit my budget.  By the time you add up the case, the power supply, the motherboard, the processor, the RAM, the (hopefully large) hard drive, the DVD Burner, and, let’s not forget, the TV tuner card, you’ve got a pretty expensive bill of materials.  However, when my officemate offered me his computer, I jumped at the chance to take him up on his offer – it changed my whole cost model.

Anyway, I got a good deal on a big hard drive, RAM and a DVD burner from Microcenter.  Then, I got a decent deal on a Hauppage WinTV-PVR350 from some outfit in New York.  This was a few months ago.  Finally, today, I stuck the card in the computer case and got to work.  A friend of mine had advised me to look into KnoppMyth because he said it greatly simplified the whole installation process.  So, I downloaded the latest CD iso image, burned it to CD and started installing.  Not everything is fully set up yet, but I can watch live TV.  The picture and sound are fine and the output through the tuner card’s S-video out works.  Now, I just need to get it to properly download the program guide, properly recognize all the channels on our local cable system, and properly respond to the remote control.  Hopefully, I can get all that stuff working this weekend.

21
Jul
06

Beware the VRM

Sometime this spring our research group acquired a rack of Compaq ES40 server machines for free courtesy of MIT’s reuse email list. During the last few months we’ve been working periodically on getting it set up for our purposes. This has included installing Debian GNU/Linux and getting two 30 amp plugs installed in the room where it sits. While this machine is pretty sweet (4 nodes; 4 Alpha processors/node), it does have some shortcomings. Most notably, it is very low on hard drive space: each node has only a 9GB hard drive. To remedy the storage problem, I had been thinking about putting together a fileserver on which we could mount each user’s /home directory over NFS. Toward that end, I recently acquired a Dell GX300 with a Pentium III 800 MHz processor for free from the MIT Equipment Exchange.

Since our “new” fileserver came with only a 15GB hard drive, I bought a new 80GB boot drive and two 160GB hard drives to serve as a RAID1 array. Given that the motherboard supports two processors, I figured I could upgrade the computer on the cheap by adding another processor. This turned out to be a little tricky because I had to make sure that the two processors would work together. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that the so-called sSpec number is the same on both processors. (See this link for useful information on the whole line of Intel processors.)  After locating the sSpec number on the existing processor, I located some other SL4BX processors on eBay and ended up buying one for ~$28. This was not the cheapest SL4BX I found but it was the only one that was guaranteed to have a heatsink compatible with my computer case, so it seemed like the best choice.

This morning, after receiving my new used SL4BX, I installed it only to find that it didn’t work. While both processors work individually, I got a strange error message about a voltage failure when I tried to use both at the same time. So, I consulted the online documentation only to find that, in order to use two processors, an additional component is needed: a voltage regulator module (VRM). I had noticed a strange-looking plug on the motherboard before and wondered what it was for. It’s for the VRM. Back to eBay.

I looked around for quite awhile simply trying to figure out what part I needed. This useful piece of information was conspicuously absent from the Dell online documentation. Gradually, it became clear that I needed Dell part number 7649D, which is apparently identical to part number 11GEF, which is the same as part number 05S2020A-4 from some company named Delta, which apparently made these parts for Dell. I called Dell Spare Parts and the guy confirmed that the part I needed was the 7649D. From looking at photos online I was able to convince myself that the 7649D is the same as the 05S2020A-4 and that the 11GEF is the same as the 05S2020A-4. In any case, after pricing the 7649D and 11GEF, I came to the disheartening conclusion that the VRM was going to cost at least as much as the processor. In fact some used equipment retailers were asking as much as $100 for this part. In the end, I lucked out and found an 11GEF for the “Buy it now” price of $17.95 + $8.60 shipping. Thus, I managed to get the VRM for about $1.50 less than the processor. Despite finding the VRM for a reasonable price, this upgrade turned out to not be as cheap as I had anticipated.

I should have the part on Monday or Tuesday and the moment of truth will present itself. I really hope that everything works, otherwise I will have wasted scarce research funds on a wild goose chase for old computer parts. However, if everything does work, I’ll have a pretty sweet server machine on the cheap: Dual Pentium III 800MHz, 512MB (Rambus) RAM, 80GB boot drive, 160GB RAID1 Array for ~$250. Acknowledgements: MIT Equipment Exchange (base machine), Microcenter (hard drives), eBay (SL4BX, 11GEF).

03
Jul
06

Finally!!

On Sunday, June 25th, I naively tried to install MySQL and WordPress. I had been running Debian Woody but in trying to install new packages, I was met with this greeting from apt-get:

E: This installation run will require temporarily removing the essential package e2fsprogs due to a Conflicts/Pre-Depends loop. This is often bad, but if you really want to do it, activate the APT::Force-LoopBreak option. E: Internal Error, Could not early remove e2fsprog

So, after googling around for awhile, it looked like this had happened to lots of people who tried to upgrade their systems “too much”, meaning they had not done enough incremental upgrades between their starting configuration (ie. an old stable version of Debian) and their desired end configuration (in my case, a newer testing version of Debian). I also got the impression from various sites that the only option really was a brute force solution. So, I followed the instructions I found online and tried to manually remove e2fprogs and then reinstall it. This did not work. In the end, I had a system with a bunch of packages that were partially installed and partially removed. Plus, I got errors whenever I tried to install anything with apt-get. It seemed like my only option was to reinstall Linux.

Continue reading ‘Finally!!’




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